A Sharp Focus on Design When the Package Is Part of the Product


This article from the New York Times is a great example of how packaging of a product can help sales of the product.

SALES of facial tissue during the cold and flu season are, appropriately enough, feverish, but not so during the summer. In the four weeks that ended July 12, 2009, for example, revenue for the products totaled $57.8 million, compared with $92.4 million in the four weeks ending Jan. 24, 2010, a difference of nearly 60 percent, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a market research company whose data does not include Wal-Mart sales.

Now Kleenex, the brand that invented facial tissues 86 years ago, is hoping to bolster summer sales with packages that resemble wedges of fruit and look more at home on a picnic table than a bedside table. The A-frame packages, featuring fruits like watermelon, orange and lime, were available only at Target last summer, and are being sold at all major retailers this summer.

“This keeps the category relevant during this time of year,” said Craig Smith, brand director of Kleenex, a Kimberly-Clark brand. Mr. Smith said that with the fruit packaging test run last summer, “we saw close to 100 percent incrementality,” meaning sales of the novelty box did not cannibalize sales of standard Kleenex boxes.

“People who were not engaged by the facial tissue category were pulled in, while regular users were buying this special package in addition to their normal facial tissue purchases,” Mr. Smith said.

Introduced in 1924 as a “sanitary cold cream remover,” Kleenex derived its name both from that cleaning function and to link it phonetically to Kotex, the sanitary napkin Kimberly-Clark had introduced just four years earlier. (The name Kotex refers to “cotton texture.”)

Shortly after Kleenex appeared in stores, a Kimberly-Clark researcher with hay fever began blowing his nose with the tissues. This moment — call it achoo! meets aha! — led Kleenex to recast the brand: advertising proclaimed it “the handkerchief for health.”

Today Kleenex is the dominant brand, with a 46 percent market share, but it has lost ground during the downturn as consumers have switched to cheaper store brands. Private-label sales over the 52 weeks ending June 13 increased 6.4 percent while Kleenex sales dropped 5.5 percent and Puffs, a Procter & Gamble brand, dropped 3.2 percent, according to SymphonyIRI. Private-label brands account for 23 percent of the market and Puffs accounts for 25 percent.

“Private-label sales continue to grow even as the segment declines as consumers find increased quality among private label,” stated a 2008 report by Mintel, a market research firm. Among consumers who still spring for nationally advertised brands, 15 percent of respondents to a Mintel survey said they did so “because the package or pattern on the product is nicer.”

Kleenex has in recent years paid particular attention to aesthetics, introducing an oval-shaped package in 2005, embossed wallpaperlike patterns in 2006 and, for the 2008 holiday season, an oval carton with a pattern of Christmas lights that actually flickered when a tissue was pulled out.

Today the average home contains four boxes of facial tissue, and users purchase tissues about eight times a year, according to Kleenex research. The most popular room for a box is the bathroom, followed by the home office, bedroom and living room.

While the purpose for most packaging is to grab attention from the shelf and to protect products on their journey from manufacturer to retailer to consumer, the package for facial tissues serves as a dispenser for the life of the product — and is prominently displayed in the home.

“With Kleenex we really consider the package as part of the product we’re providing,” said Christine Mau, brand design director at Kimberly-Clark. “That’s what really sets Kleenex apart.”

In Neenah, Wis., where the Kleenex brand team is based (Kimberly-Clark’s world headquarters are in Dallas), designers occupy a section of the offices called the “trend area,” where new designs are developed.

“Designers bring in rugs, pillows, little girls’ dresses — anything they think is building a story,” Ms. Mau said. “We’re encouraged to play in our work.” Along with subscribing to over 50 home décor and design magazines, the team attends numerous home décor shows internationally.

Last year, the design team was given a challenge that “was less about home décor and more about creating seasonal interest during the summer months,” Ms. Mau said. “We were asking, ‘How do you crack the code and take something that you kind of take for granted and create this consumer delight, this impulse purchase right on the spot?’ ”

The team first settled on a watermelon, because “it was the ubiquitous symbol of summer and of fun and happiness for everyone — you don’t have to have a boat or a summer cottage,” Ms. Mau said. The idea for the wedge-shaped box, and for other fruits, followed.

After their limited introduction in Target last summer, the boxes, which feature illustrations in a photo-realist style by Hiroko Sanders, a Los Angeles illustrator, earned numerous design awards, including best in show from Pentawards, an international package design competition. A member of the Pentawards jury, Lars Wallentin, is quoted on the organization’s Web site saying that the Kleenex package is “very attractive, full of joy and freshness” and “shows great maturity, because the consumer is not bombarded with information that he neither really needs nor wants.”

Another indication that the brand is striking a design chord: consumers are less inclined to shroud tissue boxes with either handmade or store-bought covers. According to Kleenex, which tracks such behavior, today only 12 percent of consumers cover tissue boxes, down from 19 percent in 1986.

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